Editorial: In Defense of Game Reviewers

Earlier this week, when the reviews on Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze were released, I was surprised to see some people get upset with the few outliers that gave it a less than stellar grade. Yeah, not really. I totally expected that, and the internet did not disappoint. I won’t quote anything here because that would seem to be calling people out (but I will note to my Twitter friends that none of you were guilty of this, I had to venture into the wilds to find the truly absurd comments). I also won’t link to any of the “offending” reviews for the same reason. See, I have more of an issue with the complaints about the reviews than I did with the reviews themselves, therefore I’ve decided to give a bit of a defense to the reviewers that are now drawing the ire of some irate and vocal Donkey Kong Country fans. I would like to also point out that I read numerous game reviews so I could write this post for you guys. If that doesn’t show how much I care, nothing will. One of the prevailing complaints against the reviews in question was that they claimed that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was simply an extension of Donkey Kong Country Returns. That it didn’t innovate or add enough to the game to distinguish it from the original. Now, I haven’t yet played the game, so this may very well be the case. The further implication of the complaints were that this game gets called out while a series like Call of Duty, often ridiculed as being the same game in a new skin, gets a pass with high review scores and multiple statements of praise.

They are a few similarities, I suppose.

There are a few similarities, I suppose.

You know what, this is a fair point. They are vastly different games, but there is a certain amount of repetition in sequels, so why punish one but give another a pass. My problem here is that reviewers are being very generalized. A review is written by one person for a web site, generally, but then that person’s score or review is simply referred to as “Blank Web site’s” review. For example, I looked a bit at the history of one of the reviewers that gave Tropical Freeze a lower than average score. His top games of 2013 were very varied and contained no sequels that I can recall being accused of mailing it in. As a matter of fact, it included Super Mario 3D World, a game that I myself called tired and more of an extension of Super Mario 3D Land than a new game in my Post Game Wrap-up. Obviously, this doesn’t exonerate every reviewer, and I’m sure that some of them do have double standards from time to time, but that doesn’t mean that all reviewers can be accused of that without looking into their individual bodies of work. I also need to point out here that Tropical Freeze got mostly high scores in reviews, so more than a few people must not have minded having more of the same. The second main complaint I saw was that Nintendo games, especially in the WiiU era, are held to a different standard than most games. I can agree with this, actually, but I don’t believe it’s because they dislike Nintendo or the WiiU. Again, some of them probably do, but I think there’s a fairer reason for this happening. Because we dealing with review scores, I looked at Metacritic’s top rated games of all time, with a cut-off score of 96 and above. Nintendo has developed 10 games with a score of 96 or above. That’s really absurd when you consider that it’s at least twice as many as any other developer. Not to mention the fact that 96 is a ridiculously high cut-off point.

Including the best reviewed game of all time.

Including the best reviewed game of all time.

The point I’m making here is that I think Nintendo games may be held to a different standard because historically, they’ve been extremely well made games. To put it another way, when a new Zelda title is being reviewed, it’s not being judged based on the newest Call of Duty or Madden game. It’s being held up against Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. When a new Metroid is released, it is placed beside Super Metroid and Metroid Prime and evaluated in the light of those titles. What has happened is that Nintendo has set an extremely high standard for their games and game reviewers examine them based on that standard. It’s not wrong to say that this may seem like an unfair standard, but it’s also easy to understand why this happens. Ultimately, in addition to the more specialized complaints I’ve addressed above, the bottom line in reading reviews is to remember that they are extremely subjective. Two people can play exactly the same game and come away with totally different impressions. My experience with Bioshock Infinite was a mixed one. I found the story wonderful, but the gameplay mundane. Most of the people I’ve encountered that played thought it was game of the year material, with much of that opinion based on the gameplay. Likewise, I’ve played many, many games that received negative to mediocre reviews, and still thoroughly enjoyed those games. Oddly enough, a dissenting opinion, or a dissenting popular opinion, didn’t enhance or detract from my experience. Reviews are, by and large, opinion based. A dissenting opinion can be discussed, examined, and analyzed, but it can rarely be called wrong. Now, I’ve mounted a bit of a defense of reviewers, but there is one aspect of a review that I’m extremely unforgiving on. I’ve written about it before, actually (NIER – The Power of a Narrative). It is a reviewer’s job to take what a game offers and deliver an assessment of it, however, when a reviewer docks a game review points because they erred in playing the game? That is inexcusable. A game review should never suffer because the reviewer was just bad at the game. You either halt your review or turn that over to a colleague, you do not publish a negative article because of your own shortcomings. I read a few comments that claimed a reviewer essentially stated that Tropical Freeze was just too hard for him/her to play and dropped the score because of that. I have not been able to find that review, so I can only treat it as a rumor, but if that is the case, then that review should be removed. Again, a reviewer’s limitations should never be blamed on a game.

I mean, really? This was not a hard mechanic to grasp.

I mean, really? This was not a hard mechanic to grasp.

I want to reiterate that discussing or debating a review is fine. I enjoy it actually, but there is a line that exists and many of the criticisms I saw of the Tropical Freeze reviews seemed to cross that line by simply calling the lower reviews wrong or by claiming that they were a result of a bias against Nintendo. Those kinds of claims do nothing to advance a discussion and only serve to make most people dismiss any other opinions you may state. Reviews are only one person’s opinion. There’s never a reason to let those ruin your day. Finally, I want to quote two reviews here to really show just how differently two people can view a game. Both of these are from reviews for Tropical Freeze.

If the regular levels were as inventive as the boss battles, then Tropical Freeze would be a surefire hit, or at least a game that demands more of your attention. – Gamespot Review A truly frustrating misstep in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is not in its obligation to the lava level (which is good!), but to the tedious boss fight. – Joystiq Review

Opinions guys, all opinions.

Brandon Nicholson is a blogger for TMRzoo.com and the founder of Just Another Video Game Blog and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3 and PS4, Microsoft XBOX One and XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Brandon provides his readers with reviews, previews, release dates and up to date gaming industry news, trailers and rumors.

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